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1. Paul Dawson, TCU
Dawson doesn’t test well and reports about his character could concern teams. That said you’ll have a difficult time identifying 10 players in this draft with better tape than his. He was immensely productive; he was the only player in college football last season with 100-plus tackles, 6 sacks, and 4 interceptions. His performance in this year’s Peach Bowl against Ole Miss was spectacular. He reads and reacts well, and gets off the blocks with ease. Without a doubt, he’s the most instinctive linebacker of this year’s class. He’s disruptive; he practically lived in his opponent’s backfield. Overall, Dawson is a downhill linebacker with great physicality and production. He doesn’t offer much flash in the way of workout numbers. Simply put, he just plays football.
2. Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
A big, physical linebacker prospect, McKinney will go no later than the second round. His size (6-foot-4, 246) is great and he offers good athleticism to go with it. His production was hit or miss. Sometimes he stood out, other times he disappeared for long spurts. In conclusion, McKinney is a three-down thumper. He’ll help early against the run and contribute as a pass rusher in passing situations. A creative defensive coordinator could really utilize his skill set.
3. Eric Kendricks, UCLA
The reigning Butkus Award winner, Kendricks is a sideline-to-sideline linebacker with terrific instincts. He has a nose for the football and does a nice job of shedding blockers. In addition, he reads and reacts well. He was immensely productive, and is one of the most explosive linebackers in the draft.
4. Stephone Anthony, Clemson
Anthony is scheme versatile, as he could start in a 3-4 or 4-3 front. He’s an intimidating hitter and also holds up well in coverage. Additionally, he displays high-level movement skills. A strong pre-draft process helped his draft stock.
5. Denzel Perryman, Miami (FL)
A two-down thumper, Perryman is a late first or day two pick. He shows good tackling fundamentals, though lacks the speed to run with receivers and some tight ends. In fact, his coverage woes could be a liability.
6. Shaq Thompson, Washington
Some project Thompson as a linebacker, while others see him as a safety. I’d like to see him as a Cover 2 linebacker. He moves exceptionally well, and demonstrates a nose for the football. Is he a poor man’s Derrick Brooks or another failed experiment?
7. Danielle Hunter, LSU
Athleticism and size gives Hunter tremendous upside. However, he’s undeveloped. He wasn’t productive and plays too high. Projecting his position is also tough. Is he a 3-4 outside linebacker or a 4-3 strongside linebacker.
8. Kwon Alexander, LSU
Alexander will start his career on special teams, but could develop into a starting weakside linebacker. Despite being undersized (6-foot-1, 227), he’s active near the line of scrimmage. He has the athleticism to go sideline-to-sideline. He’d look good in a Cover 2.
9. Taiwan Jones, Michigan State
Jones is a two-down linebacker who’ll likely play special teams early. He doesn’t wow you with his athleticism, but he’ll knock you into next year. There’s room on a 53-man roster for somebody who plays the game with that kind of mentality.
10. Jordan Hicks, Texas
Prior to last season, injuries held Hicks back. He turned it on in 2014, becoming one of the Big 12‘s best linebackers, recording 147 tackles. He’s a real active player, moving sideline-to-sideline. Sometimes he plays too high, though.
On the Bubble
Xzavier Dickson, Alabama
Hayes Pullard, USC
Jake Ryan, Michigan
Tony Washington, Oregon
Ramik Wilson, Georgia